Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Age of Reagan

I have just completed reading Sean Wilentz's The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008. This was to be my flight back to Australia read, but I got impatient. I finished reading it as a huge storm blew over Bloomington, so there may be a poetic analogy between that storm and the conservative uprising in US politics that is the subject of Wilentz's book.

Wilentz's key point is that just as the period in US history from the Great Depression to 1968 was an era of liberal reform, where Democrats dominated the presidency and those Republican presidents there were, such as Dwight Eisenhower, accepted the underlying premised of New Deal liberalism, the period from the mid-1970s to the present was a conservative era, dominated by Republican presidents, where Democrat presidents such as Bill Clinton had to adjust to conservative rules.

At the centre of this is Ronald Reagan, US President from 1980-1988, who was the standard bearer for conservatism prior to election, and who was the most electorally successful president of his time. The book's structure is complex, as it is not a biography of Reagan but also only partially a history of the period.

I will post further on The Age of Reagan, but it is worth noting the point made by Wilentz, who is personally a liberal democrat by political affiliation, that Ronald Reagan and his era have not been well served by authors. For those on the left, including much of the academy, it is almost as if it is too awful an era to go back to, as it is clearly the period when American liberalism got its most severe caning in the popular mindset and the political sphere. The right, however, don't do honest appraisal of the period, and hence fail to note how some of the failing of Reagan had within them the seeds of today's troubles in American conservatism and the Republican Party.

Well worth a read.

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